When the coach affectionately known as “Kess” died Sunday, he left behind a legacy that his peers say might never be seen again.
John Kessler began teaching and coaching at Columbus East High School in 1973, just one year after the school opened.
During the next four decades, he went on to serve as an assistant coach for tennis, basketball, diving, football, wrestling, track and gymnastics — and as head coach for boys tennis and freshmen girls basketball.
He also helped with the diving program at Columbus North High School.
Even after retiring, he continued to help with East athletics, volunteering as a hurdling coach and coaching East divers during the most recent season.
In 2012, he was one of four people to win the Jack Cramer Ideals of Athletic Competition Award, which is presented to leaders in the city’s sports community.
People who taught and coached with him said he deserved the award in every way possible.
Jim Sheridan, the swimming coach at North, worked with Kessler for a few years in the 1980s and then again once he started coaching at North.
Sheridan called Kessler “a man for all seasons.” Some coaches, he said, will coach one or two sports.
But Sheridan said Kessler coached nearly every sport and did so with the utmost dedication to the sport and the athletes.
“This man coached everything, and he was a guy that never worried about titles,” Sheridan said. “He didn’t care about being an assistant coach. He just wanted to help kids get better at life.”
Kessler would do “anything that you asked him to do,” said Bob Gaddis, East’s athletics director and head football coach.
Gaddis said that was just one sign of Kessler’s “passion and love” for coaching and helping young people.
Sheridan said Kessler was always positive and had a unique ability to “lift spirits and teach kids to get better at any level.”
He said Kessler had high expectations for his athletes and wanted them to learn about being great. He said while all coaches like to win, Kessler had a genuine desire to help kids both in sports and in their lives.
Nancy Kirshman said Kessler put everything he had into helping young people succeed.
“He never held back,” she said.
Kirshman, who coaches gymnastics at East and accompanied Kessler to the Cramer award ceremony in 2012, had worked with Kessler in some capacity since 1973. She said she and others will remember him as “a true gentleman and a person who truly had young people’s interests at heart” and as a person who was always there to serve as a positive influence and always willing to help.
Kessler will be sorely missed, she said, both around the high schools and around the city, for who he was as a person, as a teacher and as a coach.
Kirshman said she will miss seeing him every day, and Sheridan said he will forever remember Kessler’s disposition and his hugs.
To Sheridan, Kirshman and many more, Kessler wasn’t just a peer or a coach or a teacher.
He was a lifelong friend. He was family. He was a constant voice of encouragement, a mentor for all athletes, regardless of whether they were Olympians, Bull Dogs or members of another team.
And, Sheridan said, he was “great at watching everybody he met win at life” and helping them along the way.
Arrangements are pending at Jewell-Rittman Family Funeral Home, 3855 25th St.